“Is following Jesus difficult or easy?” The homeless (and apparently drunk) man asked my wife years ago.
Disinterested in hearing any answer but his own, he solved his own riddle immediately: “If you’ve given yourself fully to him, it is easy. If you are split in devotion, torn in your love between Christ and other things, it is hard.”
In his stupor, that man stumbled upon something profound: Great loves make burdens light. Sacrifice and difficulty in the Christian life become lighter when we face them with love for Christ, and heavier when we don’t.
Love Lightens the Load
The man’s comments remind us, does anything have the power to strengthen us in hardship, and empower us for heroic deeds, like love?
“Does anything have the power to strengthen us in hardship, and empower us for heroic deeds, like love?”
Take romantic love as an example. Is anything too difficult or too inconvenient for a man whose heart has been captured by a woman? For her, he will climb mountains, swim oceans, face dragons. Love, true love, propels him beyond his normal capacities, redefines his limitations, expands his borders. Love thickens his blood, strengthens his arms, and focuses his mind as few things can.
We find this intoxicating power of love in the Bible as well: “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Behold love’s wizardry. It transformed seven years of hard labor into “but a few days.” His affections for her lightened his load and reshaped his experience of time itself.
She was his treasure. Years of work were but nickels and dimes thrown upon the table, coins hardly worth counting. Six months or seven years; eighty-six cents or a dollar fifty — what did it matter for her?
Though You Have Not Seen Him
Is this not what the drunk was waxing eloquent about? We do not work, as Jacob did, to win Christ, but we do have a great love to lighten our years of service. Love for Christ makes us too feel the time-warping, burden-lifting effect that relieves the hardest labors. Is this eulogy, if spoken truthfully, not the envy of all?
Mr. and Mrs. Faithful served Christ relentlessly for fifty years unto their death. And all their labor and sacrifice over five decades seemed to them but a few days because of the love they had for their Lord.
This living and longing love for Christ, buoying us in our trials and empowering us to endure hardship, was exactly the element Peter commended in that suffering church to whom he wrote. Though placed in various fires of diverse trials, he observed what was apparent to all:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
They were a happy, loving people because their affections were set, above and beyond their trials, on Christ. With all the trouble they did see, their heart was fixed on the Groom they couldn’t. Mixed with their hardship, they possessed joy their most able writers could not put into words: inexpressible. A happiness the inspired author could only describe as “filled with glory.”
Theirs was a robust gladness. A bottomless joy. An unsinkable hope. An indomitable faith springing from the depths of a great love for a mighty, temporarily unseen Savior. They did not focus on their seven years of trials but on the altogether lovely one to whom their trials led. Even in their hardships, their love made following Christ easier, in a real sense, than it otherwise appears.
Love Makes Heavy Crosses Light
Does our love for Christ overwhelm the daily inconveniences, the nagging sufferings, the fiery trials, the exhausting labors? Does it all feel like only a few days? Are the scrapes, losses, and toils but nickels and dimes in comparison with him? Can our hearts say with that excellent laborer and mighty sufferer, “We do not lose heart”?
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
Does what we see beyond make all affliction here but light and momentary? “Had we more love to Christ,” the Puritan John Willison once said, “his cross would not be so tedious to us” (Suffering: Selections from Spurgeon’s Library, 17). Does his arrow miss any of us?
Speaking for myself, I know all too well that the days grow longer, the nights darker, the work more tedious, and temptations more towering the very moment my love for Christ begins to cool. I know the difficulty of a divided heart. Weak love for my Lord makes me weak. When my heart adores him, I walk upon the water, no matter what storms surround me. I sink, however, as soon as the raging waves begin to dampen my love.
Lesser Light of Our Love
With all this talk of how our love for Christ strengthens us to labor and suffer with joy, we must remember how our love for Christ grows: by beholding him and his love for us.
“The days grow longer, and the nights darker, the very moment my love for Christ begins to cool.”
Properly understood, he is the Jacob who left heaven and labored among us for more than three decades, being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. But we see how love braced him to endure the wrath and the shame meant for his beloved bride: “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). She — safe, redeemed, reconciled, with him where he is — played a real part in that joy.
Our love, returning to its source, is always the lesser light. The moon of our affections for him cannot shine on its own. It shines only as it is shone upon by the love of God through his Spirit (Romans 5:5). His flame touches dead coals and sparks new life. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
And thus, John chose this great sun as the center of his life and identity: not his love for Christ, but Christ’s love for him. He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 35; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). And when considering our own aching hearts to be loved by such a Wonderful Savior, he reminds us that God’s love is the only mass suitable to orbit: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Ten Thousand Lives Later
Jacob labored seven years for Rachel, and the love he held for her lightened his burden. Love fast-forwarded all the months that stood between them. His work became easy, just as the drunk man observed. What a gift it would be for our Lord to give us increased love for himself, such that work and sacrifice become lighter as he becomes nearer.
This life flies past all of us. Instead of lengthening the time between he and us, what if, like Paul, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that “to depart and be with Christ . . . is far better” (Philippians 1:23)? What if, as we scaled life’s mountains and walked through its low valleys, we served him joyfully because we searched for him jealously?
And at the end of our appointed time in the harvest, what if each of us, with calloused hands and sore backs, could add our voice to Spurgeon’s? “I feel that, if I could live a thousand lives, I would like to live them all for Christ; and I should even then feel that they were all too little a return for his great love to me!”